The Los Angeles Lakers are in the midst of a four-game winning streak after the All-Star break, but in order to extend that figure to five, they’ll need to beat the Atlanta Hawks, one of the hottest teams in the league.
The Lakers haven’t been relatively healthy since the second half of the season commenced, as Marc Gasol and Alex Caruso have been in-and-out of the rotation lately. Caruso suffered a concussion against the Indiana Pacers, which was thought to be more gruesome than it actually was, and Gasol is still out, although nearing a return after being cleared from the league’s health and safety protocols.
One crucial improvement to Los Angeles’ play since the break has been the 3-point game. In the last four games, the Lakers are shooting 38.6% from deep, ranking sixth in the league. The ball movement while knocking down open looks is a pivotal factor in L.A. ranking third in the league in assists in the last four games, averaging 29 a game.
The Lakers currently have four vital rotational players all shooting the 3-ball at least a 45% rate: Markieff Morris (50%), Kyle Kuzma (48%), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (46.2%) and LeBron James (45.8%).
That should bode well for the Lakers as the Hawks allow opponents to shoot 1.4% better than their usual 3-point percentage, though injuries to Atlanta’s perimeter defense group could aid Los Angeles further.
James is looking at a matchup where things could align in his favor. Atlanta won’t have Cam Reddish and the status of Kris Dunn and DeAndre Hunter id in question. Beyond that, Atlanta has Tony Snell, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari and Solomon Hill they could use to stick onto James, but that should have James drooling.
The Hawks have a middle-of-the-road paint defense, allowing teams to score 48.3 points per game down low, 19th in the league. A healthy Clint Capela should assist that, but Atlanta is scarce with interior defenders. That could open up Montrezl Harrell to feast down low; Harrell struggled against Charlotte’s bigs, scoring just seven points, but this could be a game to get back on track.
After going for 22 points and seven assists against Charlotte, Dennis Schroder is another key player to watch for, especially considering his matchup with Trae Young.
Young has been an imperative part of Atlanta’s recent success, as the Hawks are winners of seven-straight games, the best ongoing win streak in the league.
The point guard is averaging 25.9 points, 9.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 43.3% from the floor and 37.5% from long range. Schroder will have his hands full trying to contain the shifty Young, but the former has the speed to fight through screens and maintain leverage against him.
Bogdanovic is another sneaky player that could cause problems for L.A. He has missed a huge chunk of this season due to several lower-leg injuries, but since his return, the Hawks are undefeated. He’s not the sole reason, but his ability to spread the floor and supply another ball-handling presence to relieve pressure off of Young is important for Atlanta’s offensive scheme. Bogdanovic is coming off a 23-point performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Atlanta is also fourth in the league with offensive rebounds, as John Collins, the dynamic power forward, and Capela play major roles in that. Morris should have the Collins assignment, and since both are bigs capable of stretching the floor, Morris must remain cautious about Collins’ location at all times.
Both teams have the hot hand entering this game, spicing the situation up even more. If the Lakers can continue hitting their perimeter shots while forcing someone other than Young or Collins to score, they could be in prime position to win their fifth-straight game.
Lakers (28-13) vs. Hawks (21-20)
12:30 p.m. PT, March 20, 2021
Los Angeles, Staples Center, California
TV: Spectrum Sportsnet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers starting lineup:
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: LeBron James
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Damian Jones
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Talen Horton-Tucker, Alex Caruso, Wesley Matthews
Projected Hawks starting lineup:
PG: Trae Young
SG: Kevin Huerter
SF: Tony Snell
PF: John Collins
C: Clint Capela
Key Reserves: Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill
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